“It was my dad's brother. I was very fond of him and it completely broke my heart when my dad told me what happened,” Amy says.
Amy remembers instantly feeling different from her peers. “Something had happened in my life that hadn’t happened to any of my friends. I felt so alone, and in my mind his death went unprocessed.”
Looking back, Amy thinks that she was clinically depressed at age 13, but she wasn’t diagnosed until she was 15 years old, the same year her nana became terminally ill with bowel cancer.
“I was put on an anti-depressant, but my home life overwhelmed me. I was upset most days at school because of something that had happened at home the night before, or that morning,” Amy recalls.
The following year Amy’s nana died and, only two days before she passed away, Amy, her sister and her aunty found the body of her mum's brother. He, too, had taken his own life.
“The days after were spent at funerals and wakes. My friends didn't believe what had happened, they told me I was lying and that I'd just been on holiday.”
Amy became suicidally depressed after losing her nana, her uncle and her friends all within three months.
“I left school without getting any sixth form qualifications, because of the trauma. I had no focus or energy. I was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder but really I was drowning in what I later found out was undiagnosed borderline personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Over the next seven years, Amy lost a third member of her family to suicide, went through five jobs, survived self-harm and three suicide attempts, as well as drug and alcohol abuse and an addiction to prescription medication.
“From my early to mid-20s I saw different therapists but didn't progress much at all,” she recalls. “Then, when I was 27, I started seeing a new therapist and enrolled in a dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) programme, which changed everything.”
The programme ran for six months and Amy completed it twice. “I saw my therapist twice weekly,” she says. “I stopped using self-harm as a way to cope with my emotional pain and gradually the work I was doing helped things to shift.”
Amy continues to work on rebuilding her life while working to heal her past trauma. She is supported not only by her husband, Alex, and her therapist, but also by an online community of people who have had similar experiences. She also reads books about those who have recovered from mental distress, and finds solace in her corgi, cats and chooks (Amy is pictured with 4-year-old Thyme).
“The chooks were an experiment in my recovery and I decided to take the leap,” she smiles. “They got me outside every day, so they have become part of my process for staying well.
“My past will always exist and I am okay with that. My experiences can never be taken away, but I can learn a new way to live with them and share my story where it will make a difference.”
Below is a list of some of the services available in New Zealand that offer support, information and help:
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 or (09) 5222 999 within Auckland
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Healthline – 0800 611 116
Samaritans – 0800 726 666
Depression Helpline – 0800 111 757 (to talk to a trained counsellor about how you are feeling or to ask any questions)
www.depression.org.nz – includes The Journal online help service
SPARX.org.nz – online e-therapy tool provided by the University of Auckland that helps young people learn skills to deal with feeling down, depressed or stressed